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    Judging from the line snaking out of the Four Rivers barbecue shack on Fairbanks Avenue, we knew that the joint had to be churning out some damn fine 'cue. So after spending an inordinate amount of time looking for parking [ed. note: this review was written for the original location at 2103 W. Fairbanks; they've since moved to a spot down the street with more parking], we joined the queue, inhaled the smoky air and covetously ogled the piled-high platters of meat being carried by salivating customers to the benches out back. In the meantime, a chirpy server came by with samples of pulled pork to hold us over – a shrewd ploy from a restaurant that already seems to have outgrown its space. Crowd control may not be this smokehouse's strong point, but serving the finest brisket in the region more than makes up for the inefficiency in the ordering process. So long as their food remains worth the wait, folks'll endure the lines and do so in happy anticipation.

    When we finally made it to the counter and saw our sublime slab of smoked-to-perfection brisket ($12.99 with three sides) being sliced, gathered and plopped onto a paper-lined tray by the Elvis/Michael Madsen look-alike, we could barely contain ourselves. Then came the selection of heady sides – smokehouse corn relish (an absolute must), Texas corn bread laced with jalapeños, thick, glistening macaroni and cheese – and finally the selection of one of the daily-changing desserts. We couldn't pay quick enough, anxious to dash out to the benches with our food and dig in.

    And it didn't disappoint. Rich, juicy and wonderfully smoky, the ample serving of Black Angus brisket was ridiculously good, the thin blackened crust an added bonus. Squeezing spicy barbecue sauce over the meat, while nice, wasn't necessary, and the accompanying lardy biscuit didn't really impress me. The mound of pulled pork ($10.99 with three sides), shredded into tangy submission, worked better as a sandwich ($6.99), while the burnt-ends sandwich ($6.59) offered the best of both worlds – brisket and pulled pork under one hefty bun. The moist half-chicken ($9.99 with three sides) requires a shout to have someone pluck it out of the smoker. (If you opt to splurge a couple of extra bucks to add a second meat to the meal, pass on the lackluster smokehouse prime rib.) The sides, it bears mentioning again, are what sets Four Rivers apart from other barbecue joints in town – sweet and meaty baked beans, salty crinkle fries and Southern green beans are all wonderful. Smoked jalapeños filled with cream cheese and wrapped in bacon are a truly original, if outright over-the-top, side. In keeping with the over-the-top theme, the towering block of "chocolate awesomeness" dessert ($3.99) is impossible to devour in two sittings, let alone one. I preferred the cup of divine banana dream pudding ($2.25) with coconut and Nilla wafers.

    4 Rivers is the brainchild of John Rivers (not to be confused with local barbecue maven Johnny Rivers), who led a successful corporate life before following his backyard passion for Texas-style barbecue. A line of sauces, a catering company and, now, a popular restaurant are all signs that Rivers' business skills are just as sharp as his cooking skills. So, given the long lines and high demand for his product, my sincere hope is that 4 Rivers mimics the bellies of its patrons and expands.

    A much-awaited renovation gives an updated look and feel to this downtown establishment hidden away on Church Street. Blissfully undiminished is the quality of the food ' seaweed salad that crunches just right and sushi so fresh it needs no adornment (though the elaborate rolls are delicious).

    There are people who stare at a showroom floor of cars, yearning for the latest model, or drool over displays of fine watches. Then there are the folks who can't walk past a dessert case without being mesmerized by the mile-high cakes under the spotlights. For you, we have Annie Pie's (anniepiesbakery.com).

    Annie's delights can be ordered from the Neiman-Marcus catalog or at Moonfish restaurants, and they've been featured on Food Network's "Best Of" show But now you can purchase those humongous, coma-inducing cakes for your own gluttonous glee by phone or web from Annie's.

    Annie's delights can be ordered from the Neiman-Marcus catalog or at Moonfish restaurants, and they've been featured on Food Network's "Best Of" show But now you can purchase those humongous, coma-inducing cakes for your own gluttonous glee by phone or web from Annie's.

    These are not only gourmet indulgences, but marvels of construction: The "peanut butter explosion" cake, layers of chewy fudge brownie, peanut butter mousse, chocolate cake, fudge and peanut-butter chips, weighs in at over three pounds!

    Antonio's Café Downstairs has long been a favorite alternative to its fancier, upstairs sister, though it meant standing in line at the counter to place your order. Now the operation has been jazzed up, with full table service and new menus for both lunch and dinner.

    Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

    Before ordering, be sure to check out the specials and look over the salads, meats and cheeses in the deli case. The focaccia topped with herbs, olive oil and tomato ($2.95) is heavenly; the lasagne di vegetali has chunks of fresh vegetables. ($6.25). Try any of the tasty pizzas or calzones, but there can be a wait for these made-to-order specialties.

    Since Antonio's Café Downstairs also serves as a grocery and wine shop, don't be surprised if your dining space gets invaded by shoppers browsing the gourmet goodies.

    A good old-fashioned country diner may seem a wee bit out of place on the modern suburban thoroughfare of Lake Mary Boulevard, but that hasn't stopped families from tolerating Appleton's fruity decor (a decor that gets ridiculously kitschy once Halloween and Christmas roll around) and gorging on heaping plates of hearty, greasy goodness. Maybe it's because the Old South vibe here isn't uncomfortably Old South ' it's relaxed, friendly, even a little dowdy, but it's got a distinct charm, and it offers a pre-noon alternative to the Heathrow housewife scene at the Peach Valley Café a couple of miles down the road.

    The waitresses at Appleton's are delightfully old-school and defiantly pleasant in the face of sluggish and disinterested diners. And they can certainly perk up the senses with comments like 'I wouldn't recommend the fruit today,â?� which, while somewhat off-putting, had me in stitches nonetheless.

    So, forgoing the cup of fruit ($2.95), we dove headfirst into one of their 'hearty breakfasts,â?� namely the country-fried steak and eggs ($7.95), which lived up to all expectations. The crunch of the pounded steak was perfect, and the thick sausage gravy that smothered it added a nice kick. Interspersing each bite with eggs over easy sopped up with a homemade country biscuit just made the meaty morning meal all the better.

    'Grits,â?� my dining partner remarked, 'are a serious personal choice.â?� The ones served here are on the thicker side, in need of quite a bit of butter and salt to give them the desired consistency and flavor. On the potato front, I preferred the home fries over the hash browns, though, really, both were good. From the griddle, both the thick French toast ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) and the pillowy pancakes ($5.95; short stack, $4.25) were flawlessly cooked. In keeping with the café's theme, warm apples and cinnamon can be added to your hotcakes for a couple more bucks. My only complaint, and it's an oft-cited one with me when it comes to breakfast joints, is that pure maple syrup isn't offered, even as an upgrade.

    All omelets are prodigious three-egg envelopes with enough sides (your choice of home fries, hash browns or grits and your choice of toast, homemade biscuit or English muffin with plain or cinnamon-raisin bagel) to keep you going until dinner. The Greek omelet ($7.95), however, was just too dry to fully enjoy. The cook was likely distracted from all the other dishes he was cooking and left it in the pan a few minutes too long, a shame considering I was looking forward to downing this eggy number with gyro meat, pepperoncini, black olives and crumbled feta.

    Coffee snobs need to leave their java judgments at the door ' the cup of joe served here is dark, strong and not for the faint of heart. A lunch menu is also offered (the place is open until 3 p.m.) with a variety of comfort food and greasy-spoon fare.

    'The Next Best Thing to Mom's Cookingâ?� is emblazoned on their menu, and while that may be true, their furnishings, particularly in the screened-in back porch, are the next best thing to a Motel 6. Then again, I wouldn't have expected anything less from a place that celebrates its Old Florida character. Biscuits to bacon, Appleton's is down-home to the core.

    Before you associate the Bumby Cafeteria with meatloaf and chocolate cream pie, we should clarify that Bumby Cafeteria is a full-service Latin restaurant, albeit a hole in the wall. About six months ago, it joined the ranks in downtown's closest claim to a Latin quarter – the stretch of Bumby Avenue between Colonial Drive and South Street. While the area doesn't qualify as Little Havana, it does have Medina's Restaurant (Cuban) and Rica Arepa Cafe (Venezuelan).

    Bumby Cafeteria barely seats a dozen customers, and that includes the picnic table out front. The dress code is comfortable, and the food is served on mismatched china, usually with a friendly greeting.

    Bumby Cafeteria barely seats a dozen customers, and that includes the picnic table out front. The dress code is comfortable, and the food is served on mismatched china, usually with a friendly greeting.

    Co-owners Hector and Blanquita Mata hail from Venezuela and Colombia, respectively; manager Pablo Quinones originates from Puerto Rico. Thus the melange of influences, from Cuban sandwiches and black beans heaped with chopped onions, to Venezuelan arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with ham and cheese), to Spanish pork dinners with rice. Nothing sets you back more than $5.99.

    Co-owners Hector and Blanquita Mata hail from Venezuela and Colombia, respectively; manager Pablo Quinones originates from Puerto Rico. Thus the melange of influences, from Cuban sandwiches and black beans heaped with chopped onions, to Venezuelan arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with ham and cheese), to Spanish pork dinners with rice. Nothing sets you back more than $5.99.

    Although this is a mom-and-pop operation, service is speedy, making Bumby Cafeteria excellent for takeout. On one visit, pabellon ($5.99) was ready in just under four minutes, featuring shredded beef spiced with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, served with rice and a choice of red or black beans. The red beans, loaded with peppers and onions, were the winner. The Wednesday lunch special ($5.49) was a sturdy chicken breast served in a spicy sauce with a trace of tomatoes. It came with more rice and beans, and a basket of toasted Cuban bread.

    Although this is a mom-and-pop operation, service is speedy, making Bumby Cafeteria excellent for takeout. On one visit, pabellon ($5.99) was ready in just under four minutes, featuring shredded beef spiced with tomatoes, peppers and garlic, served with rice and a choice of red or black beans. The red beans, loaded with peppers and onions, were the winner. The Wednesday lunch special ($5.49) was a sturdy chicken breast served in a spicy sauce with a trace of tomatoes. It came with more rice and beans, and a basket of toasted Cuban bread.

    Tamales ($4.50) are cooked to order, so there's a 15-minute wait. But slice into the corn-husk jacket and you'll find a moist, sweet, filling meal. Better yet, add a jolt of house hot sauce, made with marinated chilis and peppers.

    Tamales ($4.50) are cooked to order, so there's a 15-minute wait. But slice into the corn-husk jacket and you'll find a moist, sweet, filling meal. Better yet, add a jolt of house hot sauce, made with marinated chilis and peppers.

    Don't miss the homestyle coconut ice cream ($2.50), served in a scooped-out coconut shell. And a creamy block of flan goes for just $1.

    Don't miss the homestyle coconut ice cream ($2.50), served in a scooped-out coconut shell. And a creamy block of flan goes for just $1.

    As a potential extra treat, the spokesman for Bumby Cafeteria told me that they're planning on expanding to a 24-hour schedule at some point. After midnight, dining options dwindle, and downtown in particular is ready for an alternative to Denny's, I-Hop, Krystal and the hot-dog grill at 7-Eleven. If and when that comes to pass, it will create some welcomed wee-hours competition.

    I wasn't really expecting big things on my first visit to Athena Cafe. But then they started bringing out the wealth of Greek cuisine: humus, dolmans, moussaka, spanakopita. As I sampled my way from one dish to the next, I decided that in the next life, I'm going to ask to come back as a Greek. It really was that good.

    Although my revelation at Athena was partly due to the vibrance and depth of Greek cuisine as a whole, it's mostly a tribute to the culinary skills of the Said (Sah-eed) family, who emigrated from the region to America 12 years ago, bringing along their favorite recipes.

    Everything was delicious on the day I visited, but especially the dolmades ($3.50), which, translated from the Arabic, means "something stuffed." Marinated grape leaves were wrapped around fillings of rice, lean beef and onions. The deep green leaves were glassy and translucent, firm enough to bind yet giving easily to the bite. They were best when swished through the accompanying tzatziki sauce, a stiff mixture of sour cream, cucumber, garlic and parsley.

    Hummus ($3.25) was almost enough for a meal. A warm, nutty spread of pureed chickpeas was smoothed across a small plate, moistened with olive oil and dusted with spices. On the side was a basket of pita bread, sliced into wedges. These you folded into halves, tucking them with dollops of hummus, diced tomatoes and onions.

    Among the house specialties, moussaka ($3.75) was a full-flavored casserole that could almost be likened to lasagna. Layers of eggplant and sliced potatoes were baked with lean beef, feta cheese, onions and garlic. On top was creamy béchamel sauce, which had become firm from the baking.

    Spanakopita ($3.75), more commonly known as spinach pie, was a hearty pastry, sliced into a generous rectangle and served warm. Dozens of layers of phyllo dough were stacked and baked in a batter of eggs, spinach, onions and feta cheese.

    Warm, spicy and honey-sweet, the traditional baklava ($1.50) was worthy of a dining excursion in itself. Sheets of phyllo were stacked, soaked with butter and syrup, then layered with nuts and baked.

    Athena Cafe isn't open for dinner, but its modest atmosphere is perfect for a casual breakfast or lunch. Popular for its breakfast gyros and Greek omelets in the $3 to $4 price range, this is a busy stop in the morning hours.

    When looking for more than "a good loaf," you'll definitely find it at Au Bon Pain (pronounced ah-bahn-pahn). The high-end bakery-cafe chain with an outpost on every other corner in Manhattan has established its first local site in tourist territory in the Club Hotel at DoubleTree.

    The polished, Art Deco-styled bakery is stocked with its fresh-baked loaves including the famous tomato-basil variety, as well as consistently delicious roast-beef and brie sandwiches, soups in bread bowls, croissants stuffed with chocolate and raspberries, and a killer Boston clam chowder. Vegetarian, low-fat and low-sodium versions are available, too.

    The polished, Art Deco-styled bakery is stocked with its fresh-baked loaves including the famous tomato-basil variety, as well as consistently delicious roast-beef and brie sandwiches, soups in bread bowls, croissants stuffed with chocolate and raspberries, and a killer Boston clam chowder. Vegetarian, low-fat and low-sodium versions are available, too.

    Prices are high – 99 cents for a focaccia bagel, for instance. But there are plush sofas, laptop ports, televisions and plenty of reading material. Other sites in central locations are a strong possibility.

    What do you get when you cross Starbucks with Ron Jon's Surf Shop? A coffeehouse with a faux molten volcano, 3-D surf wave, saltwater aquarium and brews with an attitude, aka Bad Ass Coffee Company.

    The fantastical decor of this Hawaiian-rooted chain fits right into its I-Drive location, south of Sand Lake Boulevard – so much so that owners Tom and Linda Clark haven't heard so much as a boo about the Bad Ass name (even though there was a bit of a "brewhaha" over the Tampa store), since they opened their family business in February. The Ass reference pays homage to the donkeys used to transport the harvested beans out of the mountains. They're not just talking dirty.

    Being good parents, the friendly Clark couple invested in the store so that daughter Jennifer, a fresh Florida State University graduate with a master's degree in tax accounting, could follow her dream to open a coffeehouse, because she didn't really like numbers, after all. And it's the only Bad Ass in town.

    This is the place to purchase genuine Kona beans – the only coffee grown in the United States. If you're late to the Kona controversy, there's been much to-do about the sale of fake or blended varieties, even by heavyweights such as Starbucks. The hoopla comes from the fact that Kona beans only grow on a 20-square-mile area on the island of Hawaii. The constant cloud cover and rich soil generate the distinctive low-acid, full-bodied beans that claim top dollar around the world.

    Bad Ass carries a variety of 100 percent Kona roasts, from lightweight American to robust French. The ultimate delicacy in the store is the "Peaberry medium-dark roast" – $22.95 for a half-pound bag, which is a totally reasonable price. Most coffee beans have two halves, but the pea berry has a single core – a natural anomaly – and they are handpicked out of the processing line. A fresh crop won't be in until February, so there's little Kona (much less pea berry) to be found anywhere, except at Bad Ass, which stocked up for the holidays.

    The store carries a lighthearted line of Bad Ass-branded mugs, T-shirts, calendars, even thong underwear. There's a limited menu of "Donkey Feeds" that includes pastries, sandwiches and ice cream served seven days a week.

    The website (www.badasscoffeeorlando.com) is ready for mail orders and shipping is free until Dec. 15.

    No one should have to make up their mind about lunch while listening to Pat Benatar belt out "Hit Me With Your Best Shot." But we gave it a try at the new Baja Burrito Kitchen at Colonial Marketplace. Standing in the "place your order here" spot by the counter, our attention ricocheted between burritos, enchiladas, soft tacos and quesadillas. And we hadn't even gotten to the salsa bar yet.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    Looking past the neon lighting, beach-scene murals and picture windows overlooking the parking lot, we wanted to imagine ourselves on the rugged Pacific coastline. That's where the cuisine takes its cue, from the deadly-hot chilis that grow wild in the desert and the seafood that's plucked from the surf. The menu is not that rustic but has more of a "Cal-Mex" spin: Soft tacos are stuffed with fish, burritos are packed with healthy grilled meats, and beans are stewed, not refried.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    After placing our orders, we chose seats and waited just a few minutes for delivery. The "Baja burrito" ($4.95) is a popular item, and it's a chunk of a meal – a steamed flour tortilla wrapped around a juicy conglomeration of char-grilled steak, black beans, onions, cilantro, cheese and sour cream. It was even better after a trip to the salsa bar, which features six ways to pack heat. Our favorite was the "fire roasted chipotle" salsa, a medium-strength version with blackened Roma tomatoes. Do heed the warnings on the labels. The formidable "habañero" salsa glows orange, and one drop is all it takes.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    We loved the grilled soft tacos so much that we plan on getting to know each and every one. The best on this day was the "fish taco Baja style" ($2.75), a grilled soft flour tortilla crimped around a fried fillet of cod, topped with shredded cabbage and drizzled with creamy cilantro-lime sauce. Running a close second, "spicy steamed shrimp" ($2.75) were mildly seasoned and fresh.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    Unfortunately, the "Baja Kitchen combo" ($6.25) was having a bad day – the grilled chicken strips were dry and uninspired. Had they not been overcooked, they would have set off the rest of the dish, which was a hot and flavorful collection of stewed black beans, seasoned rice and soft flour tortillas.

    While Baja Burrito Kitchen's cooking is formulaic, its freshness is without question. Everything is cooked to order. The restaurant is a welcome addition to the Colonial-Bumby area, whether for a quick pit stop after shopping or for takeout.

    In 1967, the Beatles released "Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band," and a small chain of fast-food sandwich joints opened in Orlando. Called Beefy King, they were going to give the Arby's and MacDonald's of the world a run for their money.

    It didn't work out; after peaking with six local outlets, Beefy King faltered and began to close up shops. Eventually, only one remained, stranded on Bumby Avenue, cut off from any franchise network. But in a spirited display of entrepreneurial hardheadedness, this Beefy King refused to die. It went private, expanded its menu and thrived, becoming a local legend blessed with the kind of dedicated following usually reserved for Apple computers and Volkswagens.

    It didn't work out; after peaking with six local outlets, Beefy King faltered and began to close up shops. Eventually, only one remained, stranded on Bumby Avenue, cut off from any franchise network. But in a spirited display of entrepreneurial hardheadedness, this Beefy King refused to die. It went private, expanded its menu and thrived, becoming a local legend blessed with the kind of dedicated following usually reserved for Apple computers and Volkswagens.

    What's the Beefy King secret? I say it's their steamers. Every time a Beefy King sandwich is ordered, the meat is seasoned and heated over a steam vent, which serves to moisten the meat and bring out its natural juices. The sandwiches are then wrapped and served immediately, so there's no wait under an intense heat lamp.

    What's the Beefy King secret? I say it's their steamers. Every time a Beefy King sandwich is ordered, the meat is seasoned and heated over a steam vent, which serves to moisten the meat and bring out its natural juices. The sandwiches are then wrapped and served immediately, so there's no wait under an intense heat lamp.

    All the sandwiches are served hot on a freshly baked sesame-seed kaiser roll, which also benefits from the steaming process. And because the steam method is so effective at coaxing out the flavors in any meat, it's rarely necessary to add ketchup or barbecue sauce – though both are available.

    All the sandwiches are served hot on a freshly baked sesame-seed kaiser roll, which also benefits from the steaming process. And because the steam method is so effective at coaxing out the flavors in any meat, it's rarely necessary to add ketchup or barbecue sauce – though both are available.

    This made-to-order system is slower than the prefabricated strategy that takes place at most big-name fast-food chains. Beefy King makes up for the time with a large and highly efficient crew, who shame the dunderheads serving burgers at those places. No doubt, corporate experts would cringe upon seeing the Beefy King counter folks writing out all orders by hand on paper, but the lines appear to move as fast or faster than any.

    This made-to-order system is slower than the prefabricated strategy that takes place at most big-name fast-food chains. Beefy King makes up for the time with a large and highly efficient crew, who shame the dunderheads serving burgers at those places. No doubt, corporate experts would cringe upon seeing the Beefy King counter folks writing out all orders by hand on paper, but the lines appear to move as fast or faster than any.

    Rightfully reigning at the top of the Beefy King food chain is roast beef, cooked fresh daily and simply delicious. Also on the standard sandwich menu are ham and cheese, turkey breast, pastrami and cheese, corned beef, barbecue beef and barbecue pork. Prices range from $2 for a junior to $4 for an extra large.

    Rightfully reigning at the top of the Beefy King food chain is roast beef, cooked fresh daily and simply delicious. Also on the standard sandwich menu are ham and cheese, turkey breast, pastrami and cheese, corned beef, barbecue beef and barbecue pork. Prices range from $2 for a junior to $4 for an extra large.

    Along with the roast beef (which I adore with melted cheese), my favorites are the savory pastrami and cheese, and the turkey breast, which is a revelation. When I can't make a choice, I order junior sandwiches of all three.

    Along with the roast beef (which I adore with melted cheese), my favorites are the savory pastrami and cheese, and the turkey breast, which is a revelation. When I can't make a choice, I order junior sandwiches of all three.

    The barbecue options are all OK, but it's easy to get barbecue this good at other places, too.

    The barbecue options are all OK, but it's easy to get barbecue this good at other places, too.

    On the side, choices are limited: unexceptional salads, "Beefy spuds" (tater tots) and onion rings. The spuds are fine, but your best bet is to just order another sandwich and revel in the beauty of this mighty little sandwich shop that has survived for 33 years by doing it better than all the big players. Simple, focused quality – now there's a lesson everyone should learn.

    We didn't review this location but you can check out the review of the Ben & Jerry's in Oviedo.

    Three dozen flavors and only one of me. That was my dilemma when I stopped by Ben & Jerry's ice cream cafe at the new Oviedo Marketplace shopping mall.

    The choices were lined up in neat rows behind polished glass, including old friends Chunky Monkey banana ice cream – so fresh it smelled like a field of bananas – and Cherry Garcia (life should always be like a bowl of this stuff). But there were new arrivals too, such as Dilbert's Totally Nuts – butter-almond with roasted hazelnuts and praline pecans.

    The choices were lined up in neat rows behind polished glass, including old friends Chunky Monkey banana ice cream – so fresh it smelled like a field of bananas – and Cherry Garcia (life should always be like a bowl of this stuff). But there were new arrivals too, such as Dilbert's Totally Nuts – butter-almond with roasted hazelnuts and praline pecans.

    I finally committed to a dreamy scoop of low-fat Coconut Cream Pie, laced with chewy coconut flakes and sweet pie crust pieces. Stored at a precise 5 degrees Fahrenheit, it was the perfect, creamy texture, and the price was right: $2.06 for a scoop, $3.99 for a hand-packed pint.

    OK, I'm going to come right out and admit it. When I first heard of a 24-hour Mexican takeout restaurant, I shuddered. Having been out of college for many years, the idea of fast-food-grade tacos before sunrise made me just a little bit queasy.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    And then we went to Beto's, near the congested crossroads of State Road 436 and U.S. Highway 17-92, and I now humbly apologize. There's an old joke about Mexican food being nothing but meat, rice and cheese with different names, and I can tell you that the joke doesn't hold true here. Beto's does not churn out your typical drive-through meals.

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    Look at the "Beto's special carne asada fries" ($5.50), thick-cut french fries smothered in guacamole, sour cream and chopped steak -- not ground meat but real pieces of steak. Or "carnitas" tacos, soft corn tortillas stuffed with roasted pork ($2.25).

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    I don't usually associate Mexican cooking with potatoes, and, in fact, the "Mexican potato" is actually jicama, a crunchy, sweet tuber much like a water chestnut. (The sweet, syrupy Pina drink that's served is made from jicama; also try Horchata, a traditional rice, almond and cinnamon drink.) So I wasn't expecting the Southwestern influences of the "Texano" burrito ($2.95), filled with rich dark-meat chicken, sour cream, cheese and potatoes, a filling and satisfying combination. I guarantee you will not eat it all at one sitting; likewise the "California" burrito ($3.05), grilled steak, pico de gallo and potato, an old-fashioned meat-and-potato meal in your hand.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    Still on the burrito kick, the fried-fish-and-tarter-sauce one was exceptional, with crispy fried fish and sharp pico de gallo (spiked with lime) for a West Coast-flavored delight ($2.95). The combination platters ($4.25 to $5.95) are enormous servings of extremely well-executed traditional dishes, using shredded beef (machaca) in enchiladas and chorizo with tortillas. I wish there were more seafood offerings than just fish, but perhaps that will come.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    And then there's breakfast. Never contemplated a stuffed taco in the morning? Beto's serves breakfast burritos unlike any other: giant two-fisted tortillas wrapped around ham and eggs, shredded beef and vegetables, or a steak and egg burrito stuffed with grilled meat, fried eggs, cheese and potatoes. Go very early, because you won't be hungry again for quite a while after finishing one of these.

    Beto's won't be winning any prizes for its decor, but the interior of the nondescript building (which at various times was a roast-chicken stand, a bagel place and a Chinese takeout) is immaculately clean and comfortable enough for a not-so-quick eat-in, any time of the day or night. Be prepared to bring half home.

    Orlando isn't exactly known for its bike-friendly thoroughfares, what with the lack of good public transportation clogging up streets with sedans and SUVs of every conceivable size. In the early '90s, in fact, the city was consistently voted as one of the worst in the country for cyclists ' I've personally known two people who were hit by careless drivers while enjoying a ride on our mean streets. And while things have improved in recent years (more bikeways, bike racks, bike awareness), the gains aren't worth an ache in the undercarriage if motorists remain oblivious to pedal-pushers. So, given this city's less-than-stellar rep for cycling I, naturally, opted to drive to Bikes, Beans & Bordeaux, a cute little neighborhood café in Audubon Park and a haven for urban bikers.

    The night I visited, a hobbling chap sporting a crutch (a motorist-related mishap, perhaps?) walked in to unwind with a few of his cycling buddies, giving rise to a cacophony louder than a roomful of yellow jerseys. A place for quiet conversation it's not, even when half-full, but the space, decorated in an understated modern style, proves owners Jen and Darrell Cunningham have good taste. For that matter, so did a glass of Marqués de Griñón caliza ($10.50), the blend of Spanish syrah and graciano getting the meal off to clean start. (In honor of the Vuelta a España, or Tour of Spain, there were a few Spanish selections on the wine list.) A thick smoothie of peanut butter, banana, milk, yogurt and honey ($3.95) made for a far more sluggish beginning.

    But the pace picked up again with the sandwiches, many named after famous cyclists. (A suggestion, if I may: the Steve Bauer-y Bum, with slices of rump roast, pearl onions and banana peppers.) The Rasmussen ($6.95), named after Danish cyclist Michael 'The Chickenâ?� Rasmussen, is everything a chicken salad sandwich should be: creamy, crunchy and subtly sweet, thanks to the inclusion of grapes. The café's focus on health means sandwiches are served with your choice of carrot sticks or Flat Earth vegetable chips, as well as a small bag of Jelly Bellys. The caprese panini ($6.95) was perfectly pressed and not a palate-shredder, with just the right ratio of mozzarella-to-tomato-to-basil. But sampling the broccoli cheddar soup ($3.95) was akin to having your bike chain slip off its sprocket. Too runny and devoid of chunkiness, the soup brought the proceedings to a screeching halt. I did get my fill of the thick, wonderful hummus ($6.95), circled by 'spokesâ?� of celery, cukes, carrots, tomato, zucchini and squash.

    Don't expect to have your order taken tableside. The idea is to place it at the counter, after which the meal will be brought to you. I made the mistake of waiting for my order to be taken, and Jen was kind and gracious enough to oblige, but that isn't the norm. It's easy to make that assumption, as the place just looks like it has full table service. I made sure to get off my seat when it came time for dessert, and it's a good thing, too, as both the Nutella cupcake ($1.85) and the chocolate-coconut-butterscotch brownie ($2.95) were finish-line favorites. A cup of Jittery Joe's coffee ($1.45) offered an appropriate kick-start.

    Riding your bike to B3 is encouraged ' just keep your eye on the racks outside, lest you inadvertently re-create a scene from a Vittorio de Sica film. The restaurant business, after all, has always had a cyclical nature.

    While some other Cuban kitchens tag onto the pan-Latin craze and expand their menus to include influences from Central and South America, the humble Black Bean Deli in Winter Park remains doggedly devoted to homespun Cuban food. After 18 years, it's still a prime choice for sturdy, soul-warming lunches and dinners.

    As soon as you step inside, you barely have to close the door before you're at the front counter, facing a menu board and kitchen team. If you don't know what you want, ask for help, and they'll steer you in the right direction, with a hot meal usually ready within minutes, generally in the $4 to $5 ballpark.

    As soon as you step inside, you barely have to close the door before you're at the front counter, facing a menu board and kitchen team. If you don't know what you want, ask for help, and they'll steer you in the right direction, with a hot meal usually ready within minutes, generally in the $4 to $5 ballpark.

    For dining in, there's but a cluster of bar stools lined up at the window overlooking traffic on U.S. Highway 17-92. But the Black Bean Deli is better known as a dependable takeout joint. Although it's a sweet, cozy setup, don't expect any overly friendly schmoozing from behind the counter – they're just too busy. We stopped by at 7 p.m. one recent evening, about an hour before they closed. "There are no more Cuban sandwiches today, and we're all out of empanadas," we were told by a poker-faced guy wearing an apron and a tired expression. Mindful of a new wave of customers who had come in behind us, we quickly chose from the other dinner options – and there were plenty.

    For dining in, there's but a cluster of bar stools lined up at the window overlooking traffic on U.S. Highway 17-92. But the Black Bean Deli is better known as a dependable takeout joint. Although it's a sweet, cozy setup, don't expect any overly friendly schmoozing from behind the counter – they're just too busy. We stopped by at 7 p.m. one recent evening, about an hour before they closed. "There are no more Cuban sandwiches today, and we're all out of empanadas," we were told by a poker-faced guy wearing an apron and a tired expression. Mindful of a new wave of customers who had come in behind us, we quickly chose from the other dinner options – and there were plenty.

    Side orders are an excellent place to start. Papas rellenas (two for $2.50) are mashed-potato fritters, rolled up almost as big as baseballs and fried into a kind of finger food. Inside are pockets of spicy ground beef, but I would have liked them better if there were more meat. Cuban tamales ($1.85) are classic renditions. The cornmeal is silky, sweet and highly filling, topped with a dab of pimento and a spoonful of peas. It gets better with a splash of hot sauce from the bar.

    Side orders are an excellent place to start. Papas rellenas (two for $2.50) are mashed-potato fritters, rolled up almost as big as baseballs and fried into a kind of finger food. Inside are pockets of spicy ground beef, but I would have liked them better if there were more meat. Cuban tamales ($1.85) are classic renditions. The cornmeal is silky, sweet and highly filling, topped with a dab of pimento and a spoonful of peas. It gets better with a splash of hot sauce from the bar.

    Sandwiches are long and flat, wrapped in wax paper and generally served warm. In lieu of the in-demand Cuban sandwich (sweet ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese pressed into a slice of Cuban bread), we chose the "media noche" (midnight) ($3.95), which is basically the same sandwich, only it's presented on a soft, yellow, toasted sweet roll.

    Sandwiches are long and flat, wrapped in wax paper and generally served warm. In lieu of the in-demand Cuban sandwich (sweet ham, roast pork and Swiss cheese pressed into a slice of Cuban bread), we chose the "media noche" (midnight) ($3.95), which is basically the same sandwich, only it's presented on a soft, yellow, toasted sweet roll.

    Among the dinner specials, we found a spicy pan con lechon shredded-pork entree, drizzled with "mojo" garlic sauce. At $7.25, it was a couple of dollars more expensive than some of the other platters, but it did come with ample trimmings of sweet fried plantains, salad and, best of all, the diner's signature black beans and rice, which was thick, savory and buttery tender.

    Among the dinner specials, we found a spicy pan con lechon shredded-pork entree, drizzled with "mojo" garlic sauce. At $7.25, it was a couple of dollars more expensive than some of the other platters, but it did come with ample trimmings of sweet fried plantains, salad and, best of all, the diner's signature black beans and rice, which was thick, savory and buttery tender.

    Flan de queso ($1.75) ended our dinner on a rich note. Black Bean's sinful version of the classic egg custard is sweetened up with melted cheese and caramel sauce.

    Flan de queso ($1.75) ended our dinner on a rich note. Black Bean's sinful version of the classic egg custard is sweetened up with melted cheese and caramel sauce.

    Years ago the Black Bean Deli might have been open one Saturday and closed the next, or open one weeknight until 7 p.m. and closed the next night by 5 p.m. These days the deli is consistently open from 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

    The King of Reggae's open-air Kingston home has been resurrected. Live bands wail in the courtyard, while the laid-back bar staff serves up Red Stripe, rum concoctions and jerk sandwiches. It's one of the smaller CityWalk venues and weekends are frequently jammed and jammin'.


    Teaser: The king of reggae's open-air Kingston home has been resurrected for the real Rasta experience (sans ganja, natch). Live bands wail in the courtyard, while the laid-back bar staff serves up Red Stripe, rum concoctions and jerk sandwiches. It's one of the smaller CityWalk venues and weekends are frequently jammed and jammin'.

    Restaurants are organic things. Like the tide, they ebb and flow. Owners and names of places change at a dizzying rate. And, in a town where good chefs are a bankable commodity, it can be challenging to keep track of who is cooking what where.

    Who's in the kitchen? It could be a chef from Disney, a woman trained in France or a guy who was managing an Arby's last week. A change can come because someone wonderful becomes available; sometimes it's because someone just left.

    Sometimes it's both. When The Boheme opened in the Westin Grand Bohemian Hotel downtown, Chef Todd Baggett had the enviable job of matching a menu to the expansive art collection and opulent-looking setting that surrounds diners. And mostly he succeeded. When he moved on to Wolfgang Puck's, the vacuum was filled by Robert Mason, former chef at the famous Vic Stewart's steak house in San Francisco and the California Café at Florida Mall. Mason promises he will take the restaurant "to a new level."

    There aren't any changes in the room itself. Same dark woods, massive columns and burgundy accents, same eclectic and sometimes puzzling art.

    As for the kitchen, the highs and lows suggest that Mason's reign also is organic. Our waiter, a bubbly chap, promised that the new fall menu was "more flavorful." I didn't see massive differences between the pre-Mason era and now. The menu still has seafood, and hefty chunks of Angus beef in several incarnations. The "au Poivre" with garlic-pepper crust ($26) is very "flavorful," though not quite as tender as I had expected. Breast of Muscovy duck ($25) and lobster still find their way to the table, and it was good to see the large a la carte vegetables available (order the "exotic mushrooms" -- in fact, order two and you may not need an entree).

    The new dishes fit in with the scheme. A pan-roasted chicken breast, stuffed with vegetables and served atop spaghetti squash ($19), is tender and good; the herb sauce made from the drippings is extraordinary. Combine that with a deceptively simple "Boheme salad" ($6) and its irresistible Gorgonzola vinaigrette dressing, and you'll leave the table happy. But "Shrimp 2 Ways" was four shrimp that tasted almost the same "way," and didn't seem worth 12 bucks.

    A new jazz brunch on Sunday allows you to eat roast turkey, omelets and waffles while hanging out around the $250,000 Imperial Grand Bösen-dorfer piano. Take an extra napkin.

    Going to South OBT to dine in a strip mall can be kind of like going to another country. But don't be fooled; behind the surplus of fast-food restaurants on the Trail lurks a hidden culinary culture and we found a new adventure -- Bon Appetit is an epicurean experience in every sense of the word.

    Of about seven tables, only one was taken when I walked into this humble restaurant cloaked in country-ish decor. Naturally I took this to mean that the group of people sitting at the table came to the restaurant together and would leave together. But I was thinking like a typical American. No sooner had the hostess seated me than another waiter came up behind her and seated someone else -- at my table. So there I was, sitting across from a young Haitian man.

    Of about seven tables, only one was taken when I walked into this humble restaurant cloaked in country-ish decor. Naturally I took this to mean that the group of people sitting at the table came to the restaurant together and would leave together. But I was thinking like a typical American. No sooner had the hostess seated me than another waiter came up behind her and seated someone else -- at my table. So there I was, sitting across from a young Haitian man.

    "You ever try Haitian before?" he asked in a heavy Creole accent. His easy manner with our dining companionship didn't exactly match mine -- I mean, technically, he was a complete stranger.

    "You ever try Haitian before?" he asked in a heavy Creole accent. His easy manner with our dining companionship didn't exactly match mine -- I mean, technically, he was a complete stranger.

    "No," I responded. "I've never tried it, but I'm looking forward to my first Haitian experience."

    "No," I responded. "I've never tried it, but I'm looking forward to my first Haitian experience."

    "How about you try me?" he asked politely.

    "How about you try me?" he asked politely.

    I couldn't help but laugh. "No," I replied. "I'll stick to the menu."

    I couldn't help but laugh. "No," I replied. "I'll stick to the menu."

    "OK," he said, unfazed. "My name -- Christian."

    "OK," he said, unfazed. "My name -- Christian."

    After sifting through the standard bar fare on the menu, I finally got to the real stuff, and it was all Haitian. Considering that I was the only non-Haitian person in the room, there didn't seem to be a reason why the menu would be 90 percent burgers, quesadillas and wings.

    After sifting through the standard bar fare on the menu, I finally got to the real stuff, and it was all Haitian. Considering that I was the only non-Haitian person in the room, there didn't seem to be a reason why the menu would be 90 percent burgers, quesadillas and wings.

    Although the "grand opening special" happened to be six white-meat chicken nuggets for only 99 cents, there was no finger-lickin' processed chicken at any of the tables. Instead, almost everyone had a steaming plate of oxtails or some deliciously fragrant plate of stew in front of them.

    Although the "grand opening special" happened to be six white-meat chicken nuggets for only 99 cents, there was no finger-lickin' processed chicken at any of the tables. Instead, almost everyone had a steaming plate of oxtails or some deliciously fragrant plate of stew in front of them.

    With Christian's (platonic) help, I decided on the "boulettes," a Haitian-style meatball. They were sold out. I was also out of luck with "grio" ($6), a fried pork dish served with pickles and fried banana.

    With Christian's (platonic) help, I decided on the "boulettes," a Haitian-style meatball. They were sold out. I was also out of luck with "grio" ($6), a fried pork dish served with pickles and fried banana.

    Finally, I settled on "whatever Christian is having," which turned out to be "calalou" ($7, $5 half-portion), a gumbo made with pig's feet. I found the dish exceedingly flavorful, even though what I was eating belongs in hot dogs (conspicuously not on the menu). My meal was served with beans and rice, and I can assure you that you don't ever want to leave Bon Appetit without filling up on the red beans and rice and fried bananas -- they're that memorable.

    Finally, I settled on "whatever Christian is having," which turned out to be "calalou" ($7, $5 half-portion), a gumbo made with pig's feet. I found the dish exceedingly flavorful, even though what I was eating belongs in hot dogs (conspicuously not on the menu). My meal was served with beans and rice, and I can assure you that you don't ever want to leave Bon Appetit without filling up on the red beans and rice and fried bananas -- they're that memorable.

    The waitress brought out something called "lambi au noix" ($10) just for me to try. This delicately spiced gumbo -- scented with celery, onions, peppers and conch -- was nothing short of heavenly. I started plotting my vacation in Haiti, until the CNN reporters on the television, a centerpiece in the room, brought me back to reality. On this day, President Aristide, on the brink of being ousted, was broadcasting an urgent message to the international community. Everyone in the restaurant got out of their seats and crowded around the TV set.

    The waitress brought out something called "lambi au noix" ($10) just for me to try. This delicately spiced gumbo -- scented with celery, onions, peppers and conch -- was nothing short of heavenly. I started plotting my vacation in Haiti, until the CNN reporters on the television, a centerpiece in the room, brought me back to reality. On this day, President Aristide, on the brink of being ousted, was broadcasting an urgent message to the international community. Everyone in the restaurant got out of their seats and crowded around the TV set.

    When Christian asked for my phone number again, it was time to go. I shook my head and grabbed for my "peach fruit banane" with milk ($2.50), which is paradise through a straw. This thick, luscious, liqueur-flavored drink must be one of Haiti's mild diversions from the mess it's in. I did notice a man grab for his as he got up to watch Aristide on television.

    When Christian asked for my phone number again, it was time to go. I shook my head and grabbed for my "peach fruit banane" with milk ($2.50), which is paradise through a straw. This thick, luscious, liqueur-flavored drink must be one of Haiti's mild diversions from the mess it's in. I did notice a man grab for his as he got up to watch Aristide on television.

    Bon Appetit is a must for the epicurean adventurer. You can even bring along those disturbed individuals who will only eat fried mozzarella sticks and still have an authentic ethnic dining experience. And if you're lucky like me, they might even seat you with a Haitian admirer.

    While waiting for our lunch at Boston's Fish House, we watched a line of customers snake into the folksy dining room. When we'd arrived, a few minutes earlier, there had been no such wait. Beginners' luck, our server informed us.

    On most Sundays, the line stretches out to the front door, she said. But this was Super Bowl Sunday, and apparently many of the restaurant's regulars were quaffing a cold one elsewhere while watching pregame hype. Nevertheless, there were still more patrons than tables throughout our dining adventure here.

    On most Sundays, the line stretches out to the front door, she said. But this was Super Bowl Sunday, and apparently many of the restaurant's regulars were quaffing a cold one elsewhere while watching pregame hype. Nevertheless, there were still more patrons than tables throughout our dining adventure here.

    There's a system at Boston's. A sign directs you to the cashier's station (ordering counter), which is out of view when you first walk inside. Once orders were placed, drinks procured and payment settled, customers return to the dining room and are directed to a vacant table – if there is one. Unless otherwise requested, all the seafood at Boston's is fried. Ipswich calms are a house specialty.

    There's a system at Boston's. A sign directs you to the cashier's station (ordering counter), which is out of view when you first walk inside. Once orders were placed, drinks procured and payment settled, customers return to the dining room and are directed to a vacant table – if there is one. Unless otherwise requested, all the seafood at Boston's is fried. Ipswich calms are a house specialty.

    Fortunately for us, our timing was impeccable and we landed a nice corner booth. Though nothing fancy, the themed surroundings were much nicer than those in cookie-cutter seafood outlets. The single, paneled dining room – decorated in nautical blue – features captain's chairs, Cape Cod curtains, an oar and harpoon, and framed prints of such New England institutions as Boston Harbor and Larry Bird. I especially noted the absence of fishy odor and grease so often found in small fish-fry operations.

    Fortunately for us, our timing was impeccable and we landed a nice corner booth. Though nothing fancy, the themed surroundings were much nicer than those in cookie-cutter seafood outlets. The single, paneled dining room – decorated in nautical blue – features captain's chairs, Cape Cod curtains, an oar and harpoon, and framed prints of such New England institutions as Boston Harbor and Larry Bird. I especially noted the absence of fishy odor and grease so often found in small fish-fry operations.

    Our meals – served on paper plates with plastic utensils – were soon presented by a cheerful service attendant who also bussed vacated tables. My New England clam chowder ($1.95) was delicious. Piping hot, with a wonderful hearty smoked flavor and more clams than potato, it was even better with a dash of salt. And my husband's sherried lobster bisque ($2.10) was even more outstanding. With an abundance of delicate lobster bits, the thick, velvety-rich soup was expertly laced with the distinctive wine.

    Our meals – served on paper plates with plastic utensils – were soon presented by a cheerful service attendant who also bussed vacated tables. My New England clam chowder ($1.95) was delicious. Piping hot, with a wonderful hearty smoked flavor and more clams than potato, it was even better with a dash of salt. And my husband's sherried lobster bisque ($2.10) was even more outstanding. With an abundance of delicate lobster bits, the thick, velvety-rich soup was expertly laced with the distinctive wine.

    Our main courses were inconsistent, although all of the seafood we were served was extraordinarily fresh. My Boston haddock dinner ($7.50) – another of the house specialties – was baked rather than fried. Crowned with a layer of bread crumbs, the fillet was bland but a dollop or two of the tasty homemade tartar sauce made it palatable. My side of rice pilaf was better than most.

    Our main courses were inconsistent, although all of the seafood we were served was extraordinarily fresh. My Boston haddock dinner ($7.50) – another of the house specialties – was baked rather than fried. Crowned with a layer of bread crumbs, the fillet was bland but a dollop or two of the tasty homemade tartar sauce made it palatable. My side of rice pilaf was better than most.

    My husband's seafood dinner ($10.50) was basically a fried combo platter. The batter was relatively light on the cod, shrimp, scallops, oysters (substituted for clams, which were unavailable that day) and onion rings. The scallops and oysters were especially good. We missed out by not ordering the side-orders of onion rings that we saw at other tables – they were piled a foot high.

    Take a stroll down any major thoroughfare in the Peruvian capital of Lima and you'll find that pollerias, or rotisserie chicken joints, are as ubiquitous as pizzerias are here. In fact, many of these hole-in-the-wall eateries closely guard their recipes for pollo a la brasa the same way that pie-makers guard their recipes for pizza sauce. And while Peruvian-style chicken has yet to establish itself in this city's culinary lexicon, you'd be hard-pressed to coax the fowl formula from the cooks, waitstaff and proprietors at Brazas Chicken, all of whom defend their secret like Túpac Amaru defended his Incan pride.

    Occupying a corner of an Edgewood strip plaza, the bustling full-service restaurant forgoes the fast-food ambience typical of pollerias. Earthy tones exude a warmth inside the inviting, though somewhat cramped, interior while Andean objets d'arts and the predominantly Peruvian staff lend the place an air of authenticity.

    As far as chicken goes, you won't find a better deal. A whole roasted pollo, hacked into quarters, can be had here for a paltry $8. The spit-fired bird is, typically, rubbed in a marinade comprising (but not limited to) salt, paprika, cumin, black pepper, garlic, lemon juice and vinegar, resulting in crispy, herb-speckled skin and incredibly moist, fragrant and flavorful meat. I particularly enjoyed drizzling the juicy morsels with zesty chimichurri and a creamy piquant sauce made from the Andean herb huacatay, or Peruvian black mint.

    A whole chicken will easily satisfy two, possibly three, diners depending on which side items you order. I opted for the maduros ($3), or sweet plantains; arroz con frijoles ($4), long-grain rice and beans; and good ol' fashioned papas fritas ($3), aka french fries. Ravaging the succulently salty chicken, then downing a chubby fried plantain ripened to a wonderful sweetness was a gratifying act.

    But that didn't stop me from indulging in the papa a la huancaina ($5), a starchy specialty of boiled potato halves lathered in a huacatay-infused cheese sauce the consistency of béchamel and served over a bed of lettuce. The cold salad was a nice prelude to the chicken ' though, really, I found myself eating bits and bites from all the dishes on the table at once.

    Those dishes also included Peru's national dish, ceviche ($10). Cured in citrus and peppered with aji limo, a Peruvian red chili, every sliver of the uncooked, cilantro-flecked tilapia offered a tantalizing tang and took me back to when I first sampled the dish in a seaside restaurant in Lima. The inclusion of thinly sliced rings of red onions, sweet potato and canchita, roasted kernels of maize, provided texture and a cooling balance to the dish.

    Bubble gum-flavored Inca Kola ($1.50) and chicha morada ($2), a cider made from purple corn and sweetened with pineapple, sugar and cinnamon, are both equally palatable beverages.

    A dulce de leche-layered sandwich cookie known as an alfajore ($1.50) was a sugary chew, while the lucuma ice cream ($3), made from a popular Peruvian fruit, had a pistachio-like flavor reminiscent of Indian kulfi.

    With influences from Spain, North Africa, Japan, China and Italy, Peruvian cuisine has long been heralded, and its emergence on the global stage was astutely predicted most recently at Madrid Fusion 2006, one of the premier gastronomic events in the world. Brazas Chicken may not offer the full culinary spectrum from the South American nation, but what it does, it does well.

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